Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica- The Strays (10 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

We had two unexpected visitors at the shop today, two quite different visitors; and yet, there's a certain similarity between them.

The most recent storm passed yesterday afternoon, leaving the sky clear, the air still and cold, and the homes of Bois-de-Bas nearly buried in snow. There is nothing so quiet in my experience as a small village in the early hours when the snow lies thick on the ground. Certainly I heard nothing like it in Yorke, a city which is never, ever quiet, not at any time.

But perhaps because of the shrouding snow, some noises travel more easily: laughter from my workshop, and an odd knocking noise from the roof over our heads. The knocking was accompanied by another, softer noise I couldn't quite make out.

The laughter was easily parsed. It was Bertrand, of course, come to see Luc; in the merriment there was a deeper tone with a bit of a catch that I'd come to know quite well over the summer on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau. Lying there in bed I could even detect that furtive note that indicated that the boys were trying (and failing) to be quiet. I knew if I went down I'd find the two of them sitting on the floor by the pot-bellied stove, telling each other stories and drinking my tea.

This was a not infrequent event, though the reasons for it had changed. Part of it was simple friendship, of course; the friendship the two boys had forged on the island was as strong as ever. But on the island, Bertrand had been the Head Boy, the chief of all the others, and while Jean-Marc was his lieutenant, Luc had constituted his general staff. Bertrand gave the orders, and relied on Luc to be sure that they were the right orders. Here in Bois-de-Bas, though, the boys had all returned to their homes and their parents. Bertrand was still chief among them, more or less, but they were no longer on detached duty in the field, as you might say, and the superior officers were now firmly in control.

But independent command can be hard to relinquish, and where Bertrand used to come to Luc to ask for advice, now he comes to ask for sympathy. I gather from the little I have overheard that he finds his father demanding, arbitrary, and unwilling to treat him as anything other than a child. "It's all right for you," he’d told Luc. "You get to work for M. Tuppenny. Mon père thinks I am still a little boy."

And so Bertrand's presence in my workshop was not quite a surprise, but the hour was most unusual. He always has to come early or late, of course, for both boys are fully occupied by their chores and other duties during the day, but this was early even for him. I suspected that M. Laveau, Bertrand's father, must have committed some supreme enormity (in Bertrand's eyes) to drive him to our house in the cold of the very early morning.

Neither Luc nor Bertrand has ever applied to me for help in this matter; nor have I spoken to M. Laveau but once, last Novembre, when I praised Bertrand to him on our return from the island. I have been resolved not to meddle unless they asked; but now I thought that I should perhaps have a quiet word with him.

As I lay there, pondering what to do, the knocking sound on the roof grew more insistent. Amelie rolled over and said in a sleepy voice, "Cher Armand, you must go see what it is." This was easier said than done, for it took me some time to prepare to go outside, and then when I got outside I immediately had to go back inside for thicker gloves and a shot of liquid courage.

When I stepped outside the house, that soft noise I could not quite make out clarified into a high-pitched nasal bleating: the chilling sound of an angry goat. I did not delay, I did not investigate further, I did not venture out into the snow, but instead I beat a hasty retreat into the house in search of any protective gear I could find. At last I had to settle for my oldest clothing: not as warm as what I had been wearing, but the least loss if rubbing against the goat's hide tore them to shreds. Then, and only then, I went back outside.

The goat was on the roof, straddling the ridge line. I recognized it immediately by a patch of white and gray on its forehead: it was one of the ewes from Marc's small herd that I'd first met while tending the goats on Onc' Herbert's farm, and then had had to milk regularly on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau for the sake of Amelie and my little Anne-Marie. In civilized countries like Cumbria and Provençe I understand that it is often the farmer’s wife or the dairy maid who milks the cows and goats; but in Armorica it is man's work, and justly so. And sometimes the goat wins.

When the ewe saw me, it—for I cannot bring myself to call it "she"—gave a long piercing bleat, then vanished down the back slope of the roof where the snow drifts were deepest.

I ran back onto the porch and opened the door to the workshop. The two boys looked up in horror at being caught.

"Luc," I said, "find me a bucket, tout-de-suite. Bring it to me here. Bertrand, we have a goat problem. I shall need you to take a message to M. Frontenac."

Their eyes widened; the horror remained. No one, not anyone, fails to take Armorican goats seriously.

By the time I close the door the goat was upon me, butting me with its head—not in anger, but also not gently. There is nothing gentle about Armorican goats. I managed to keep my feet, and was able to take the bucket from Luc when he thrust it through the barely open door.

"Now fetch me a rope!" I said.

Fortunately the goat was eager to be milked, which is not to say that the process was easy or quick. But I got it done with only a few bruises and the loss of one trouser leg, and by that time dawn had brightened the sky and Bertrand had gotten his warm coat back on. With his help I managed to get a loop of rope around the goat's neck and tie it off to a post at the corner of the house.

"Now, Bertrand, I need you to go tell M. Frontenac that I have his goat."

"Oui, M. Tuppenny. But mon père…."

"I shall let him know," I said. "But be quick—that rope won't hold the ewe for long."

I sent Luc with a message to M. Laveau; and in due course Marc and Elise drove up in their sleigh with a length of leather-clad chain suitable for leading a recalcitrant goat. We had them with us for the noon meal, and then finally Amelie, Luc, and I were able to get on with things—I with a small limp, but I counted it cheap at the price.

Tomorrow morning I shall have to visit M. Laveau in person.

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Letters from Armorica- Small Victories (8 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Of late it has seemed that every problem is mine to solve; but I find that I am mistaken, and in the most pleasant possible way. My Amelie has undertaken to teach young Luc to read! She will teach him as she herself was taught: his numbers first, and figuring, and then his letters, and then she will teach him to keep accounts. This is an unusual skill for a former, at least in Yorke where the Guild has a certain dignity, but it is quite a practical one for one in a little town in Armorica where being a former is not much grander than being a shopkeeper. A former can starve as easily as anyone else if he doesn't mind his expenses.

So he will work with her in the shop in the morning while he is fresh, and with me in my workshop in the afternoons; and then in the evenings I will resume reading aloud to Amelie, and we shall have Luc join us. If I pick the tales appropriately (or, perhaps, inappropriately, in my mother's view) I think he shall soon develop a taste for the written word.

As a result of this new program, I happened to find myself alone in the workshop with Jacques-le-Souris yesterday, a storm having kept the other elders of the village by their firesides. He was passing the time by telling me an improbable story of a tame grand-blaireau that developed a taste for cognac—a story I firmly believe he was making up as he went along. A lull came after he related an episode in which the beast got stuck in the cellar of a tavern in Old Mont-Havre, having demolished the stairs in its drunken lurchings, and so had to be extricated by a team of men with horses and ropes and a net; and during that lull I struck.

"Jacques, tell me truly. M. Truc was killed by a grand-blaireau decades ago, and you have remained at Madame Truc's side all of the time since then; but you have never married her. Why not?" I didn't look at him as I said this, but continued polishing the bed-warmer I was forming.

He tried to evade the issue. "Oh, but Armand, Madame Truc is a widow of the most fierce! You know this. Who would willingly bind himself to such a woman? Only my old friend Edmond, only he would be brave enough."

"And yet, you seem to have done so," I said.

"Moi? Oh, no, cher Armand. I am not bound to her." He started looking around the room, as if to find a means of escape. "Her husband asked me to take care of her with his dying breath, vraiment, but I am a free man, moi!. I am a rover. I go where I please and do what I please!"

"This is true, my friend. I have often heard your stories. But still…it seems that going where you please often finds you sitting on the settee in my parlor by her side." He began to sweat visibly, but I did not relent. "In fact, Jacques, it seems to me that you have been a husband to her in all ways but the most central for all of these many years."

"She is, she is, a woman of the most proper," he said.

A thought struck me.

"Jacques," I said, "how is it that you first came to be called Jacque-le-Souris, Jacques the mouse?"

"Why, Madame Truc began to call me that, some time after—"

"After her husband died?"

He nodded sadly.

"And still you did nothing?"

"She is a woman tres formidable, Armand," he said, sadly.

"C'est vrai. But still, she has had many years to accept another's offer, and she has not done so."

Jacques got a look in his eye. Clearly this was a new thought.

"Do you think—"

"That she has been waiting for you to declare yourself? I do." In all honesty, Dear Journal, I was less certain than I let on. But I continued to meddle anyway. "I do believe that you will find her in the parlor with Anne-Marie. Perhaps she might like some company?"

Jacque humphed a bit in his colorful flavor of Provençese, and tried to go back to his tale about the drunken grand-blaireau, but after perhaps a quarter of an hour of fidgeting and sweating he made a paltry sort of excuse and left the workshop.

I have no definite news to report, but Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris kept shooting glances at each other over the dinner table this afternoon when they each thought the other wasn't looking. Something has changed; and as I haven't heard Madame utter a sharp-tongued word all day it is clear she has been given pause to think. I have the highest hopes for our living situation.

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Letters from Armorica- Lessons (4 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have made the most distressing discovery—young Luc does not know how to read and write!

This afternoon, as a break from shaping bed-warmers out of bronzewood, I set him to begin to copy my grimoire. This is how it has always been done: each former has his grimoire, in which he records how to form all of the things he knows how to form. He begins by copying his master's grimoire; and as times goes on he adds his own discoveries, and so the craft progresses. Master Netherington-Coates of the guild house in Yorke once told me that he had copied his grimoir several times, adding notes and amendments to the earlier entries and perfecting the latter ones, and expected to do so several more times over the course of his life. It is sage advice, and I intend to follow it as I can.

My father, perhaps needless to say, did not. When I copied his grimoire as an apprentice, the main body of the book was all in his schoolboy hand. Jealous as he is of protecting his status as a master former, he is far more a politician than a former.

And so this afternoon, I judged it both prudent and merciful to give Luc a rest from shaping bronzewood and from my own windy lectures, and let him get on with making his own copy. I pulled a blank ledger from our store room, that being what was available, and pen-and-ink, and sat him down at his bench to begin.

"This is your grimoire," I said, handing it to him. "And here is mine. It contains everything I know about forming. Over the next few months you will be copying it over; and by the time you are a journeyman you will know what all of it means. Here is pen and ink; best you get started."

I was discussing the news of the day with the gentlemen gathered at the front of my workshop—M. Simard has been helping M. Gagnon to remove the last of the red paint from the Gagnon's front door, and suchlike matters of import—when Old Edouard jerked his head at me and made a pointed glance over my shoulder. I turned to look and found that Luc was sitting on his stool, head down, utterly still.

I walked over to him, quietly as good be, and looked over his shoulder. My grimoire and his own lay open before him. There were no marks on the page; the pen still lay where I had placed it.

"Luc, what's the matter?" I said.

Behind me I heard the door open; I glanced back and saw Jacques-le-Souris waving the other gentlemen through the door into Amelie's shop. He winked at me, and followed them out.

Luc looked up at me, his face the very picture of misery, and shook his head.

"All you need to do is read what's there, and then copy it down. Much of it won't make sense to you, but that is quite all right for now."

He shook his head again, and looked down. It was very strange; I had always found him to be both willing and able to do anything I asked of him.

"Luc," I began, and his shoulders hunched. A thought came to me. "Luc, you do know how to read and write, don't you?"

His shoulders hunched in tighter.

I pulled the stool over from my bench and sat down next to him. "You don't know how to read and write," I said. He made the tiniest little shake of his head.

"How on earth do you not know how to read and write?"

He shrugged. I stopped. I'd known a boy, once, who seemed to be simply unable to learn. He said the words swam around before his eyes. Could Luc be like that? But—

"Luc, what about Bertrand and the other boys. Do they know how to read and write?"

"Some do, some don't, Master Tuppenny. It all depends," he said in a tiny voice.

"On what?"

"On their parents."

I thought about the buildings in the village. The church, our shop, the various houses.

"There is no school here, is there?"

"No, Master Tuppenny," he said, without turning to look at me. "Are you going to send me away now, master?"

"What?" I was quite taken aback. "Send you away? What nonsense! You're my responsibility, young Luc. It's my job to teach you what you need to know to be a former."

"Oh," he said, and I saw his shoulders relax a bit.

I picked up my grimoire, and the pen and ink.

"Put your grimoire away for now; you'll want it later. In the meantime go back to the warmer you were working on. I must go talk to Madame Tuppenny."

And indeed I do, though that will wait until I am done with this journal entry. Mostly I wanted time to think, and to tell Jacques and Edouard and the others that it was safe to return to the comfort of my workshop.

I must teach Luc to read and write, and that will be a challenge. I taught Amelie to read, but her father had taught her her letters and how to figure. She could read and write names of things well enough, or at least recognize them and copy them well enough to keep accounts. And she'd acquired a love of stories from her father's reading to her. Luc hasn't even that basic foundation.

I fear I have been leaving him too much alone in the evenings. I shall have to consult with Amelie as to which of the books we have would be the most exciting for a young boy.

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Letters from Armorica-Rich Fools (26 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been an eventful week, and so I have had little time (or interest) in writing. It is hard to find a time for writing anyway, with so many people in the house. Anne-Marie is getting bigger and becoming more interesting every day, and Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris are ever present—and that is just the evenings!

But the first snows came a couple of days ago, and buried our house up to the windows; we had to dig our way out in order to go to divine services these last two days. It is snowing again, and so all is hushed; and what with the cold and the effect of the hot springs this afternoon, Madame and Jacques both went to bed early.

Separately, of course. I really must persuade them to marry, if only to make better use of our living space!

So it is quiet, and Anne-Marie is asleep, and Amelie and I have the parlor to our selves. There is a small fire, so that we are warm and cosy; and so it is time to write about the past week or so.

It has been busy, as I say. Back on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau I formed some heating blocks out of metal to heat water in the bath-house, and some out of wood for heating our homes and tents when it got cold and we didn't dare show any lights or smoke. The wooden blocks weren't completely satisfactory, as they could not put out as much heat as the metal ones without catching fire, but they were better than nothing. It occurred to someone last week—I am not sure who, but I suspect Madame Pelletier, who, it seems, always has her eye on her comforts—it occurred to someone, I say, that the wooden blocks would be ideal for warming beds on cold nights, and so much safer than warming pans filled with coals from the fire!

Which is true, of course, which is why Luc and I had made some for the beds here in our house. I suspect Luc of talking a bit more than he ought—as an apprentice, he ought not be speaking of the craft to outsiders.

But the cat is out of the bag; and I could hardly refuse to fill the demand, especially after Amelie told me about the horrible fire that consumed the senior Gagnon's cottage some years ago.

The blocks I made on the island were just that: simple blocks of crêpe de chêne, with squared-off edges and all splinters smoothed away, and then formed to give off heat. The wood was on-hand, and easily worked, and there was no need for more than that in the spartan setting of a war camp. For our use here at home, though, I made them out of bronzewood, and formed them into flattish disks with rounded ages, rather the shape of warming pans. Made properly they give off a comfortable degree of heat, not hot enough to burn the skin, and Amelie found that she likes leaving them in the bed all night long; but the square edges of my original blocks were uncomfortable on the feet, and the soft wood didn't wear well under that kind of use. So I made them out of bronzewood, a labor of love, and now everyone else wants bed heaters made out of bronzewood too!

Ah, well. The current demand will keep us fed through the winter.

Then there are the daily distractions, which I expect will only pick up in coming weeks: with the two wood-stoves in my workshop, it is likely the warmest public spot in town.

Come to that, how is it that Bois-de-Bas has no inn, no public house? We shall have to see to that come spring, if only to avoid expanding the size of my workshop!

Being head-man has been different than I expected, at least so far. I was fearing having to sit in judgment over tales of thievery or worse, but it hasn't been like that. Even with the new folks in town, it seems that one just doesn't do that here on the frontier. Oh, there are stories, but they all go back to the earliest days of the settlement. The offenders quickly left town, and in a box as often as not.

No, it's been an issue not of petty thievery but of petty feelings.

Some while back, before the Provençese soldiers came, there was a fashion for brightly painted doors and window frames here in town. The houses here in Bois-de-Bas don't really need painting; they are all built of bronzewood timbers, with chêne-pierre cladding on the exteriors, and neither kind of wood requires painting to stand the weather. But Mme. Poquerie had some extra paint, and painted her window frames yellow, and a kind of frenzy began.

At the height of it Mme. Gagnon had had her husband paint their entire front door a brilliant red, and the soldiers had found it irresistible; from the looks, they spent much of their free time throwing knives at it. The underlying wood isn't much scarred— chêne-pierre can stand a great deal of abuse—but the paint job is in an awful state. Mme. Simard, the butcher's wife, lives across the way; she began the trend of "colored doors" by painting her doorframe (leaving the door itself alone), and Mme. Gagnon painted her entire door to do her one in the eye. But a doorframe isn't much of a target, and so the soldiers mostly ignored it; and so Mme. Simard has been lording it over Mme. Gagnon and teasing her about the damage to her fancy door.

I heard about this while I was working; the old men sitting around the front of my shop were gossiping about it, and laughing a great deal. But it was a problem, one said: "The Gagnons ate at home alone last Sonnedi rather than share space with the Simards, and that isn't right." Eventually one of them asked, "What do you think, Armand?"

I'd had time to think—if you don't let your mind go about its business when you're shaping bronzewood, you'll go mad—so I had an answer ready.

"I guess you all know that my father is an important man back in Yorke, where I come from," I said. "He's always been very concerned with appearances. He always had to have clothes made of richer cloth than any of the other guild-masters, and I remember him replacing our front door for one that was fancier than the neighbor's, and gloating about it at the dinner table. But you know," I shrugged, "he never got along with anyone, and he was never happy with anything. I like it better here in Bois-de-Bas, where people help their neighbors."

Our home isn't painted except for the sign that says "Tuppenny's," and of course I was wearing my work clothes, which were simpler and rougher than those of any of my listeners. I've no doubt that word will get back to the ladies that they are acting like rich fools from Yorke.

In the meantime we've placed an order for paint with Suprenant et Fils; but the demand for it is much greater in Mont-Havre than it is here, and what with that and the snow we won't get any until spring at the earliest. By then, with luck, it won't matter.

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Letters from Armorica- The Gathering Place (15 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is all as I have feared.

Everyone smiled broadly and greeted me warmly at divine services this past Sonnedi morning. It was the same at Sonnedi dinner at the Tremblay's—and I was made to sit at M. Tremblay's right hand, with Amelie by my side. It was a worrying thing, for never before had I sat much above the bottom of the table.

Precedence, I have found, is very important to the Provençese settlers of Armorica. I saw this at Madame Truc's table back in Mont-Havre, of course, and it is the same here. But Madame had only to consult her own desires and the events of the day, for hers was mostly a gathering of strangers; but here it is a thing I have never understood, a thing of a complex of relationships and shared experience and favors given and favors owed and old feuds and old alliances, none of which am I familiar with.

I said as much to Amelie on our way to the hot springs.

"Naturellement, mon cher," she said. "And that is why." But she wouldn't say anything more.

And then, in the hot springs, I was made to sit at Onc' Herbert's corner of the grotto, in Onc' Herbert's own place. There was much hooting and many broad grins as Marc escorted me there and sat me down. It is a spot with a clear view of the rest of the grotto, and from which my voice could be clearly heard throughout if I raised it event a little. I discovered this when I sat down and found that the water in that spot was rather hotter than I expected, for I made some exclamation or other. There were cheers and many rude gestures, and Marc said to me, "Bien sur, Armand. We would not wish you to be too comfortable." But he sat down to my right, where I am sure the water was not much cooler.

For what it was worth, no one called upon me to pronounce judgement on anything. The will of the village had been made plain in the most concrete possible way; and the business of the day being concluded, I was left to stew in peace.

As I stewed there, in mind as in body, I tried to remember how Onc' Herbert had behaved. He rarely spoke, that I recalled, at least not to everyone. The hot springs are a social place, so of our course everyone chats to those around them, and there is a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing. But sometimes the conversation becomes general, and everyone quiets down and listens. At those times Onc' Herbert listened with the rest; and at length would ask a question or two; and a little later might have something to say on the matter. Then he might answer some questions, and the general conversation would break down into smaller groups again.

"It wasn't that Onc' Herbert was in charge," I said to Marc. "It was that everyone trusted him."

"He was in charge, mon ami," said Marc in my ear. "He was in charge because they trusted him, "n'est-ce pas?"

"I see I shall have to work on my reliability," I said, and Marc thumped me on the shoulder.

And these last few days, things have been appearing in my workshop. My workshop is typical for Bois-de-Bas, being built to a pattern: a front door, a broad space for customers, a counter, and the workshop proper behind that, where I have tool racks, a work bench, and other appurtenances of the former's profession, and not the least welcome, a wood-burning stove. The space in front of the counter had remained largely empty, for I seldom had more than one customer at a time.

When I entered it on Monday morning, I found Jacques Poquêrie installing another wood-burning stove in the corner. When I returned from my midday dinner with Amelie and Anne-Marie, I found that a low-backed settee had been placed below the windows, facing the counter. A rocking chair soon joined it, and a low table with a chess set.

Jacques-le-Souris spent much of today in the rocking chair, and many of the older men in the village have been in and out of the workshop all day, chatting with Jacques and with each other. I recognize all of them, of course, but many I have never spoken to, not more than two words; for it was mostly the women of the village who came to our shop proper in the short time I was at the counter there with Amelie, and there were only young folk on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau. Each of them greeted me, and gave me their names if I didn't already know them. It is fortunate that a former's training requires a great deal of memorization!

I followed my resolve to listen and say little, and spent my time hardening cookware and pondering what else I might form during this stretch of uneasy peace. It is hard to ponder when your workshop has become a parlor! But I said nothing of this, to them or to Amelie.

But she understands, of course. "It is tres difficile, je connais," she said to me last night as we climbed into bed under Old Man Blaireau's majestic pelt. "But I am so proud!"

My father shows his authority to everyone by always dressing richly and wearing his grandmaster's chain if anyone might see him. My master's chain, which I coveted so when I was younger, remains in its case; and my authority is shown by the presence of old men in my workshop and by my place in the hot springs, where, truly, any attire at all would be quite out of place. It is a strange place, compared to Yorke, Armorica is; or perhaps it is Yorke that is the strange place.

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Letters from Armorica- Books and Trout (5 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is Sonnedi once more. We are home from the hot springs, and the first snows are falling outside our parlor window. I fear it is going to be a long, cold, and above all hungry winter, for our farmers were not able to attend to their duties as they ought during this past summer and fall. If the Provençese had not withdrawn before harvest I fear we should all have starved by February. As it is, well. Perhaps we shall come through.

Ah! I am in a dark mood tonight. Amelie is pleased—not that I am in a dark mood, but that we received a shipment of books from M. Fournier. Anne-Marie is sleeping, and Amelie is now deep in a tale of adventure by M. le Chevalier Décharné. She is exclaiming and reading me bits every few moments. The hero, one Jacques le Incroyable, has just escaped certain death in the coils of an enormous serpent.

Yes, I fear it is true; M. Fournier was forced to consult with M. Harte, and sent along some of the latter's remaining stock along with his own.

That is all well enough. But along with the books we also received a letter from Mr. Trout. It reads, in total,

My dear Mr. Tuppenny,

You have been unpleasantly distant since we last spoke—I have not heard from you this age. Please, do write in all haste and assure that all remains well with you and yours.

—T

A casual reader might think that "T" omitted a word in that last sentence; surely he meant to say, "…and assure me that all remains well with you and yours." But I fear that the word was omitted on purpose.

And yet, what shall I write him? More, now that the snows have begun, how shall I send it? I could make use of the homing board I sent to M. Suprenant, but I dare not involve him in this. To do so would not only expose him to Mr. Trout (though, as he is known to be my friend it is likely too late for that), it would reveal that we have a secret means of communication over long distances, and that is a thing we have determined to keep secret as long as possible.

Perhaps the plain truth will be enough for him: we are bedding down for the winter, we are overcrowded, and we are likely to be underfed before spring. I suppose that once the storm is past there will be someone willing to carry messages towards Mont-Havre. If only I could be sure that Trout will be content with such!

There were unusual rumblings at the hot springs today. Not all of the newcomers have yet been invited to the springs, which is a point of contention and will cause grief if we do not resolve it soon; but the reason is that the men of Bois-de-Bas are wrangling over who shall replace Onc' Herbert as the village's head man. The whole discussion is complicated by the fact that the village has never actually had a head man, not in name; the folks here have simply relied on their neighbors to do their best, and Onc' Herbert was known to be particularly skilled at leadership. But Bois-de-Bas has grown, and it is becoming harder for everyone to know all of their neighbors. The old system does not seem workable. And so some are arguing that we should have an official head man, as many other villages do.

And so we spent the baths today talking, and talking, and talking as the steam rose from the water and our fingers and toes shriveled. It would be laughable—for the water is delightful with or without the wrangling—but for the outcome. Many favor Marc Frontenac, of course, both for his leadership over the last year and his status as Onc' Herbert's heir; but Marc lives on his farm, and so isn't especially handy to settle disputes and what not. Thus, there is another camp that has settled on me of all people. I am not seen as a leader in the way Marc is; but the folks here in town do not want a leader so much as they want an advisor—almost, I may say, a magistrate: someone who lets people get on with their business but is present to settle things when they get out of hand.

I am still hoping to avoid this fate, for I too just want to get on with my business. I said all this to the assembled men in the springs. And my supporters all nodded and said, "Yes, that is as it should be." And Marc's supporters all got considering looks on their faces. And Marc looked at me, and shook his head, and winked, and made a show of wiping sweat from his brow.

We left it open, but I fear what next Sonnedi will bring: by then, the ladies of Bois-de-Bois will have had time to tell their husbands the results of their own deliberations, and Amelie has been smiling a secret smile at me all of this long evening.

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Letters from Armorica- Overcrowding (28 November 34 AF)

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Dear Journal,

Now that we have returned to Bois-de-Bas and are getting settled in for the winter, I find that we have troubles I had not anticipated, the chief of which is overcrowding. We lost very few during the hostilities, and they were mostly from the outlying farms, not from the village proper. Onc' Herbert, whom I sorely miss, is chief among those.

But we also gained. Amelie and I have our Anne-Marie, growing every day, and other children have also been born, for life goes on, n'est-ce pas , and we also have Luc, my apprentice. Marc's travails among the other villages of our region brought no few outsiders to town, as troops and liaisons, and by the nature of things some of them met local girls and chose to stay. And not least, there are my own refugees, Madame Truc, Jacques-le-Souris, and Jean-Baptiste. And winter is coming, and simply isn't enough housing for everyone.

Luc, at least, is no great difficulty, for in time-honored tradition his sleeping place is under one of the work-benches in my work-shop. Even I had to do that during my apprentice years, and much pleasure did it give my father, I do think. And Jean-Baptiste is provided for, for he has both a place and a position. He is helping to run our shop, of course, and he and Brigitte are living with Brigitte's parents—no uncommon thing in Bois-de-Bas. But Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris are necessarily living with us. I fear it is a blessing and a curse, for we have only so much room and Madame and Jacques cannot possibly share one.

I have proposed to them that perhaps they should marry, for I know them to be devoted to each other; Madame's husband died decades ago, and Jacques, his closest friend, has been Madame's support ever since, and she his. I found them sitting one beside the other before the fire, playing with Anne-Marie, and put it to them. They both of them looked at me like I was mad.

"Moi!" cried Madame Truc, "Moi, become bound to this layabout, who has never done a good day's work in all his life long? Jamais! If he had been of the most diligent he would have saved my husband from death by le grand-blaireau and I should be married to this day. Non." And she shook her head.

"Les vaches!" cried Jacque-le-Souris, a look of terror in his eyes. "But she is la femme tres difficile. I should have no rest, no more comfort. Non, mon cher, I may not. It would be the death of me!"

"Vraiment," said Madame Truc. "He is quite right, him."

And they nodded at each other with great satisfaction, and continued to dandle my daughter on their knees.

"It is not so bad," said my Amelie to me that night. "Ma mère et mon père are gone, and yours are so far away and so—" and here she grimaced "—so formidable, it will be well for Anne-Marie to have les grand-mère et grand-père near at hand."

So I am resigned to it; but we shall have to extend the house yet again come spring. I do hope M. Fournier is able to supply our needs for books, or it shall be a bleak wait.

A little further afield, there are others of Marc's troops who are excited by my sky-wagons and other innovations and who have remained in town, buzzing about the outskirts. Some wish to buy a wagon; others wish to try out a sky-sled. They come by my workshop every day hoping to wear me down. But Marc and I have taken M. Suprenant's advice to heart. Le Maréchal is not here, and we are at peace, but the war continues elsewhere. We do not know how things will shift, or who our new masters will be, no matter what the ambitious decide in Mont-Havre. And so Marc's men have gathered up the sky-wagons, sleds, and chairs and gotten them all under cover on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau where the ghost of Old Man Blaireau may keep watch over them. Our encampment there has also been prepared for winter most carefully; it will be there for us at need. Only two sky-sleds remain in all of Bois-de-Bas; I have one, as does Marc, and both are carefully hidden.

The time will come when we are truly at peace, and then, I think, Marc's vision may be realized; Bois-de-Bas will become a new mercantile center in Armorica, and may well eclipse Mont-Havre. But we must wait until the correct moment, when war does not rage across the Abyss. That time may not be soon.

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Letters from Armorica- A Literary Request (21 Novembre 34 AF)

First Letter

Mon cher M. Fournier,

I have an urgent need, which I hope you will be able to address. You see, we have run out of books. My wife Amelie has learned to read over the last year, and having read and re-read has exhausted our supply. And there is worse: our home was occupied by soldiers over the last several months, and those books we left behind (for we took what we could with us) were treated most abominably and are now unreadable.

When last we spoke, many, many months you were rapidly running out of stock; and it is possible that you have nothing at all left. Still, I should be happy to receive whatever you have, up to perhaps thirty or forty volumes. We have here a mere handful of books, some of them exceedingly dry; most of the rest are by the novelist Jacques Renaud. (These last belonged to Amelie's late mother.) I have included a list of the titles. You will note its extreme brevity.

But please to remember, this is your friend Armand—I am not looking for beautiful leather spines to line the shelves of my find home in Mont-Havre, I am looking for books to read. I know very little about Provençese literature, so I hesitate to make any suggestions, but may I say that my Amelie likes dashing, romantic adventure and tales about far off lands? Though of course even Provençe is a far off land for her. For my part, I would delight in anything new, anything at all. Winter is fast approaching, and if I have to read one more time about Renaud's simple country milkmaid who becomes one of the great ladies of Provençe without losing a shred of her virtue or simplicity, leaving all of her social enemies agog, discountenanced, or converted by her simple goodness, I fear I shall I shall go mad. But truly, anything new will do, even if it is by M. Renaud. If necessary, you might even make arrangements with M. Harte for some of his remaining stock, low as it is.

Please work out what you can spare, if anything. I am a trader these days, as you know, and I have an account with the firm of Suprenant et Fils; and the bearer of this note can help you work out the payment with them, and will transport the books back to Bois-de-Bas.

In the meantime, I have made inquiries to my family in Cumbria about a source of Cumbrian books; but of course I have heard very little from them over the past year. My father is feeling well-disposed towards me these days, I do believe, and with trade resuming, at least with Cumbria and her allies, I think it may be time for you to make inquiries. I shall write his direction below, and you may use my name.

But beware! As grandmaster of the Former's Guild, my father is a great man in his own opinion, and, I suppose, in reality as well. If you wish to win his aid, you must address him as such, though it pains me to say it. (You will note that I am in Bois-de-Bas, rather than by his side, in part because I refused to do so.) But as I say, he is well-disposed towards me at the moment, and I am sure that everyone in Yorke sees the virtue in increasing trade with Armorica at Le Maréchal's expense. I think you must strike while the iron is hot, as we would say back home.

And please, let me know how you do. I have worried for you very much this past year.

Your friend,

Armand Tuppenny

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Letters from Armorica- News from Mont-Havre (19 Novembre 34 AF)

First Letter

Mon cher Armand,

My thanks for your letter of the 15th. I am pleased that you remain well and have come through these trials in good spirits, and I am delighted with what you tell me of Jean-Baptiste. Please convey my best regards to him and his bride; and tell him that he shall always have a place with Suprenant et Fils should he choose to return to Mont-Havre in the fullness of time. (Though from what you say I do not think he shall choose to do so!) And I shall surely remember you to M. Fournier.

Now, to answer your questions.

It would be an act of the most foolish for you to come to Mont-Havre, even for a brief time. Yes, matters have improved and trade is beginning to flow, for which le Bon Dieu be thanked! But we remain a few short steps from chaos. Gouverneur Francois remains in his palace, but he was moved to one side by General Marchant and is now ignored by all the world. Ma mere Provençe will only ever rule here again by force.

But Marchant also disbanded le Petit Parlement, and he and they have been replaced by no one at all. Half the cafés are full of those calling for le Petit Parlement to be re-instituted, while the other half are full of those who think it should be le Grand Parlement, and most of these are full of schemes of the most grandiose! Meanwhile to my certain knowledge there are several men of standing plotting to make themselves le Roi d'Amorique. They shall not succeed, naturellement; my countrymen would not stand for it. But it is a measure of the times that they try.

Given time, all can made plain and order can be restored. But have we time? There is no one who knows. And so, the first of the Lands of the Abyss to send troops in force will find that Mont-Havre falls into their hands. Note, I do not say that La Belle Amorique will fall, but Mont-Havre is ripe for plucking.

Non, mon cher ami, do not come to Mont-Havre, not even for a visit. You are far safer in Bois-de-Bas; and, I think, L'Amorique is safer with you there as well.

And that is the answer to your second question. Timber we must have, and the products of agriculture, but your newer products should remain in the countryside for now. And, bien sur, I will rush to find the things your village needs and send them on to you, and I thank you for coming to me to procure them.

To resume: nor can I recommend that Madame Truc return here. I myself have gone to inspect her former home, and it is a shambles. Le Maréchal, may he die in infamy, sent his worst troops here, and I fear it would be easier to burn her home to the ground and rebuild than to make it habitable for anyone but les cochons. And tell her, please: I have been unable to determine the whereabouts of M. Sabot. No one has seen him in many months.

Et enfin, yes, I do know a lad with the skills and habits you describe: my third son, André, whom you will no doubt remember. I shall send him to Bois-de-Bas with your man, and he shall carry this letter. I know he shall do well under your tutelage, for I remember the care with which you ministered to poor Jean-Baptiste under adverse circumstances.

I believe that is all for now. You may be sure I shall send to you discreetly if the situation changes for the worse here in Mont-Havre.

With all cordialité,

Leon Suprenant

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Letters from Armorica- Cleaning Up (15 Novembre 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Aunt Maggie,

Trusting that my cousin Jack is well, and presuming upon your good will, I've enclosed a letter for him. Please, of your love for me, send it onward to him wherever he may be.

Your loving nephew,

Armand

Dear Jack,

Why is it that soldiers are such pigs? Or perhaps you will tell me that it is only Provençese soldiers that are pigs, and that Cumbrian soldiers are fine, upstanding, courtly lads who would never dream of carving obscenities on the mantelpiece of a temporary billet. Indeed, I think you might very well tell me that; and yet you forget how very well I have known you from a child.

Cumbrian soldiers would have been an improvement, mind you. The rubbish heaped (and, in some cases, seeped) into the corners of the rooms of our little house would at least be Cumbrian rubbish, and my dear Amelie would be less likely to be offended by their foul words.

You may well blink in surprise! Yes, not only do I have a dear Amelie, but we are wed; and not only wed, but parents of a lovely little girl.

You needn't look like that, Jack. Your countenance betrays your evil soldier's mind. Amelie and were married last December, and little Anne-Marie was born in September. Shame on you, Jack!

But yes, I find I am "settled down" here in Armorica. Not in Mont-Havre, however. On receiving your last letter I found myself quite unwilling to assist le Maréchal's forces in anything like an official capacity, and finding Mont-Havre uncongenial to those aims I journeyed out to Bois-de-Bas, the small village where my friends Marc and Elise Frontenac had settled.

It was a bold stroke, and as a way of avoiding the war, a futile one; for the war came to Bois-de-Bas in due course. Amelie and I were forced to leave our home (the village shop, in point of fact) and seek shelter elsewhere. Now we have returned to our village and are trying to put the pieces back together again, higgery-hoggery; and I suppose that restoring the woodwork will provide me with something to do once the snows come, which may be any time now. The mantelpiece itself can be replaced, but the timbers cannot be. At least the timbers are bronzewood, so the marks made on them by the Provençese cochons are as shallow as their wit.

The new mantelpiece will also be bronzewood, if I have anything to say about it; and indeed I think I shall take the time to harden it. That will learn them, should we ever have any trouble with soldiers again. May their knives break on it!

Yes, Jack, it is true, your esteemed cousin is now a humble shopkeeper. Amelie's father, M. Fabré, was the village shopkeeper—which, by the by, is a much grander title than you might think. The village shop is where everyone buys whatever they need that is not made locally, so it is as much a warehouse and a transshipment point as a shop. But he was unwell, and had only a daughter to follow after him, and—

You needn't look at me like I'm some kind of fortune hunter, Jack. If you must know, I was maneuvered into this marriage by my friends Marc and Elise—and, indeed, by the whole rest of the village, I suppose—and I am grateful. Amelie suits me very well, and should you have the chance to meet her you'll wish she had a sister, Jack, indeed you will. Alas, for you! But truly, you could do worse, when your time is up, than to take your pay and come here.

But there is more. Not only am I a humble village shopkeeper, I am now a master in the Armorica Former's Guild—which, at present, consists only of me, myself, and I. Yes, you may well stare. The guild here was founded by masters from the guild in Toulouse nigh on thirty years ago, and after experiencing conditions here in the early days of the colony, the survivor went home, leaving me in possession as it were. I have quite risen in the world!

Jack, I am hoping this finds you well; and if well, then, of course, still about His Majesty's business. In that case you shall certainly not tell me where you are or what you have been doing. But please, do write me, if you can, and let me know that you are well. I have been much concerned.

Your cousin,

Armand

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